Cultural mismatch and the education of Aboriginal youths: The interplay of cultural identities and teacher ratings
In response to the enduring "deficit" approach to the educational attainment of Aboriginal students in North America, we hypothesized that academic underperformance is related to a cultural mismatch between Aboriginal students' cultural background, which emphasizes connectedness and interdependence, and the mainstream White model of education, which focuses on independence and assertiveness. The participants included virtually all the secondary students (N = 115) in the Naskapi community of Kawawachikamach, Quebec, Canada. We obtained self-reports of identification with Aboriginal and White culture, teacher reports of assertiveness, and official grades. We found that high identification with either Aboriginal or White culture was related to higher grades, regardless of whether the students were perceived as assertive by their teacher. Conversely, at low levels of cultural identification toward Aboriginal or White culture, being perceived as low in assertiveness by one's teacher predicted lower grades. This suggests that both high cultural identification and assertiveness can contribute to enhancing the educational outcomes of Aboriginal students, but that Aboriginal students with low levels of both cultural identification and assertiveness are at particular risk as they are mismatched with the culture of mainstream schools and do not benefit from the protective effects of identity. The relationships among identity, cultural values, and academic performance point to the need to reject the notion of an inherent deficit in education among Aboriginal youths in favor of a different framework in which success can be attained when alternative ways of being are fostered and nurtured in schools.